Managing the Challenges of Parenthood
Transition to mother/fatherhood and Identity
Parenting is a complex concept that can be tricky to prepare for. Some new parents can find it hard adjusting to their new role as mum/dad. At times the pressures and change can be just too much and lead parents to develop a mental health disorder common in the perinatal period. The most common mental health disorders in woman being Perinatal Depression and Perinatal Anxiety.
Perinatal Depression is defined as depressive symptoms experienced at any time in the antenatal period or in the 12 months following the birth of a baby. 1 in 4 women found to experience this before the birth, 1 in 3 women during pregnancy and 2 in 5 women within the 12 months after the birth.
Perinatal Anxiety is defined as anxiety symptoms experienced at any time in the antenatal period or in the 12 months following the birth of a baby.1 in 5 women will experience this either during or 12 months after the birth.
Fathers are also affected 1 in 10 experiencing another common mental health disordered call Post Natal Depression which occurs in the first year of their child being born.
First 1000 days
The above stats highlight the importance of a parent’s mental health needing to be monitored and nurtured in the perinatal period for both parents. If left untreated or ignored the effects are not just on themselves but also on the infant and their development
Parent mental health is strongly associated with infant attachment, health, safety, and development. In the first 1000 days the infant's brain is ‘actively dependant’ and growing physically at a rapid rate. They are learning and adapting to their environment and most importantly they are responding to interactions with their caregivers.
Therefore, you can imagine if the parents’ mental health is not prioritised and looked after the child will have difficulty in translating the world. A great example of how a parent with a mental illness such as Perinatal Depression who are more likely to show less eye contact is in the ‘Still Face Experiment.’ The study found that parent’s lack of facial expression can lead to gaze aversion and negative affect from the infant. In addition, the infant engaged in less social, and object play during the still-face stage.
Watch the Still Face Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apzXGEbZht0
Another area to become familiar with when adjusting to parenthood is your attachment style. There are 4 types of attachment styles that are characterized by different ways of interacting and behaving in relationships. During early childhood, these attachment styles are centred on how children and parents interact.
An attachment theory called ‘Circle of Security’ (COS) is a great concept that can highlight and explain how parents can create a secure attachment. COS does a great job at describing concepts found in psychology especially in attachment theory in easy-to-understand terms, check out the video below on concepts such as ‘Shark Music’ and ‘Being With’:
Great strategies to help you through your parenting journey:
1. Good enough parenting: in the COS theory they describe the concept of ‘good enough parenting’ as parents who do their best (loving, engaged and in tune with their child) 60% of the time can achieve a secure attachment whilst the other 40%, the parents are still figuring things out. This standard is a great reminder of where to set your expectations as you go through your parenting journey.
2. Utilise respite and lean on people when you need: It may feel uncomfortable to ask others for help with a baby, or you are set on doing things on your own however if it all becomes too much its best to reach out to someone even if it’s to support with the household chores/cleaning or giving you time for a short nap in the day.
3. Practise mindfulness and make it a regular part of your routine: Mindfulness is the means of paying attention to the present moment, with intent and without judgment. The techniques of mindfulness have been found to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression commonly found in the perinatal period and to increase positive emotions and improving the overall quality of life. Great Apps to help you practise mindfulness throughout the stressful times:
- Mind the bump
- Mind Mum
- Smiling Mind
4. Boundary setting with people who give their advice: You may have noticed many people from your work colleagues, your family and friends will continue to offer suggestions or advice on how to parent your child. At times this may be a helpful and work well for you, however other times it can become overwhelming. Therefore, it is helpful to set some boundaries with these people if you begin to feel you need a break, for example: ‘Thanks for letting me know, however for now I am not prepared to make any more changes’ or ‘I appreciate your concerns and suggestions I however I feel okay with what I am doing now.’
5. Always make sure you fill your cup once a day: It is often said that parents are responsible for filling their child’s emotional cup although it's also important to have the parent fill their own. Make some time for yourself either that be a walk to get a barista made coffee or sitting down with a cup of tea listening to your favourite music. The activities don’t have to take up too much time and do your best in prioritising it daily.
If you've been struggling during this challenging time, don't wait - seek help from your GP or a mental health professional. Working with a psychologist can help with implementing tools to help you managing this tricky transition.